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How to Navigate a Conflict With Your Teacher

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The classroom should be a place where students feel they can learn without interruption or distraction. That being said, things don’t always go according to plan, and students can sometimes find themselves involved in a conflict with a teacher. Not only can this situation be stressful and difficult to navigate, but it can also inhibit students from learning in a stress-free environment.


Conflicts with teachers can arise in various ways. You may disagree on grading policies, or you may even believe that you were graded incorrectly on an assignment or on your participation during class. You might find yourself dealing with issues of behavior, whether you find yourself constantly getting in trouble in the classroom or you suspect your teacher is handling other students’ behavior incorrectly.


You might even feel that you’re being treated unfairly; perhaps you’re getting punished more severely than other students for doing the exact same thing. Maybe you feel that you’re not getting enough personal attention in the classroom, or maybe you even feel that the rules the teacher is enforcing aren’t fair to begin with.


It can be difficult getting into a disagreement, especially with a figure of authority whose presence can affect your learning as well as many other aspects of your high school experience. Keep reading for tips and advice on how to navigate a conflict with your teacher.

Try to see both sides of the issue


It can be upsetting to feel that you were treated unfairly in the classroom, and this frustration can be made even be more salient if it resulted in you receiving a less-than-satisfactory grade. This being said, it is important that you refrain from jumping to conclusions and taking action.


Be sure to give your teacher the benefit of the doubt and be sure to try and look at the situation from both your point of view and the point of view of your teacher. If you are dealing with an issue of grading, look over your assignments, guidelines, and rubrics closely. You want to make sure there was nothing in the grading policies that you might have missed.


If you’re dealing with a conflict that involves your behavior, take a look at your own behavior before drawing conclusions—how do your actions compare to the actions of others in the classroom? Is there something reasonable or fair that you could change?


If the issue has to do with a given teacher’s policies or rules that you feel are unfair, take a look at the larger atmosphere of your school. Are your teacher’s policies or actions on par with those of other teachers? Remember to recognize that, especially in large schools, teachers may not be able to provide as much individualized attention as you would prefer, and they can’t prioritize you at the expense of other students.


You should also keep in mind that whether or not you personally like your teacher doesn’t matter much. It is an unfortunate fact of life that you will have to deal with people you don’t like at school and work forever, and you will have to do it graciously. In fact, it might be helpful to gain experience working out a conflict with someone that you might not personally like in a mature and productive way.


It might be a good idea to discuss the issue with your parents if you’re comfortable doing so. They may have some helpful insight or input that could help you deal with the situation. Lastly, before we start to discuss different ways to handle a conflict with a teacher, keep in mind that you should choose your battles. Not every bad grade or detention is worth fighting, and not every bad grade or detention will torpedo your chances of getting accepted to college. For more information about handling disciplinary action in the context of applying to college, check out CV’s blog post about addressing disciplinary issues on your college applications.

Option one: speak directly to your teacher


Speaking directly to your teacher can be great for the cases in which you genuinely don’t understand why you received a particular grade or reprimand. This can be a valuable learning experience as well, as it might be helpful for you to understand what you might have been doing wrong in order to avoid doing it again in the future.


Be sure that you aren’t being accusatory or combative—it is imperative that you remain polite and respectful. Put emphasis on the fact that you want to resolve the issue and are open to listening to your teacher rather than just furthering the conflict. Make it known to your teacher that you are willing to listen to what they have to say. After all, there is always the possibility that there was a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication that can be easily rectified, or that there were expectations of you that can be more clearly specified.


It is imperative that, when working out a conflict with your teacher, you meet with them in person rather than emailing them or talking to them on the phone. Meeting with your teacher face to face will show that you respect them, and it will give you time to plan out your thoughts and calm down. This will also prevent your tone or intent from being misread, as it often can be in an email correspondence.


You should be aware that the issue may be one that is officially left up to the teacher’s discretion, in which case you might have to accept it (unless, of course, there is definite misconduct or discrimination that has occurred).

Option two: visit your guidance counselor


If you think you may be facing a more serious issue, or if the issue that you’re dealing with involves other students (for example, if this is a case of bullying in the classroom), it might be a good idea to go see your guidance counselor. This is also an appropriate action if you don’t feel comfortable approaching your teacher directly. Your guidance counselor might be able to give you advice on how to approach the subject, and they might also be able to give you context regarding how similar issues are addressed at your school. In a particularly serious situation, your counselor may also be able to intervene, mediate, or escalate the problem to higher authorities.

Finding possible solutions


Working things out directly with your teacher is often the best option for everyday problems like grading standards or classroom rules. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher directly what their expectations for you are and how you can meet them. It almost always takes two people to have a conflict, so it is a good idea to be thoughtful and mature about finding solutions and taking responsibility for your part of the conflict.


The most desirable outcome of any conflict with a teacher is obviously to be able to maintain a good relationship with them. That being said, if a conflict between you and your teacher is substantial enough to affect your education, and other attempts at a solution are unsuccessful, switching to a different class/teacher may be an option. This may pose some logistical difficulties, though, so be sure to speak to your guidance counselor to see what your options are.

Exceptionally serious issues


Though the majority of this article discusses how to resolve a conflict with your teacher, keep in mind that if you’ve experienced violence, assault, harassment, or similar treatment in the classroom, you need and deserve immediate help from the adults in your life. In these cases, don’t approach your teacher alone if you feel even a little bit unsafe—talk to a trusted adult in your life who can help you direct your complaint to the proper authorities.

In conclusion


Disagreements with a teacher can be frustrating, but one conflict certainly won’t mark the end of your academic career. There are many ways that you can handle this situation; it is most important that you approach things with a clear head and a mature point of view. Remember that your teacher is human and will be bound to occasionally make mistakes. That being said, you likely aren’t perfect yourself, but if you take the time to analyze your own behavior and look at the situation from a different point of view, it’s likely that you’ll be able to find common ground and resume learning in a conflict-free classroom.


For more tips on how to achieve academic success, check out these articles:

How to Build a Relationship With Your Guidance Counselor

Controversial Extracurriculars and Your College Applications

How Important are Letters of Recommendation?

How to Deal with Disciplinary Problems on your College Application


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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).